The Issues Surrounding Oil Drilling

The recent suspension of oil drilling leases in the largest national wildlife refuge in the country leads to the debate on the disadvantages and advantages of oil drilling.

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From fueling vehicles to producing electricity for heat, oil plays a fundamental role in our lives. However, as a fossil fuel, it is detrimental to the atmosphere and the health of our planet’s vital ecosystems. With the Biden administration’s recent decision to suspend oil drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on June 1, the debate around the practice of oil drilling has intensified, as government officials and conservationists are in conflict over the practice’s economic gains and environmental impacts.

Oil drilling is the process of extracting petroleum from the Earth by drilling a hole deep into the ground using an oil rig, a large, versatile structure that serves to extract, store, and process the collected oil. A tube is then placed in the hole for structural support, and a pump is connected, removing the desired fossil fuels from the reservoir. Onshore drilling is the drilling of oil under the surface of the earth while offshore drilling is drilling underneath the seabed.

Oil drilling leases have become more popular as humans look for new oil reserves buried under Earth’s oceans, due to the exhaustion of onshore oil wells and years of on-land oil exploitation. Undeveloped places like Alaska and the Arctic are more appealing to oil companies. The main motive of the current Arctic resources race is the $1 trillion worth of oil, gas, and other resources under the Arctic ice and water. The vast amount of raw material in the northern polar region is due to the nature of the Arctic Ocean itself: since it is surrounded by continents, enormous deposits of organic matter like plankton and algae are available. The abundant sediment from mountain erosion provides intensifying heat and pressure that gradually transforms the organic matter into oil. The special characteristic of the oil reserve in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is that it is located onshore, making its estimated 11 billion barrels of oil easier to obtain. Therefore, many feel that the administration’s decision to suspend the drilling lease is a critically missed opportunity to obtain these resources.

The suspension of the oil drilling lease in the largest national wildlife reserve in the country is a move that environmentalists deem a crucial measure to combat climate change. This is because millions of metric tons of carbon emissions could be prevented from accelerating climate change. However, critics of this change point out the administration’s previous defense of a Trump-era drilling project known as Willow, which was initially planned to acquire oil from the North Slope of Alaska and produce 100,000 barrels of oil each day for the next 30 years, while hurting the area’s fragile wildlife. These contradictory actions raise concern from conservationists: as Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, commented, a “‘drill here, don’t drill there’” approach will not fulfill the country’s goal of protecting the Earth and the plan to cut U.S. emissions in half by 2030. Though the immediate response to oil drilling for some is disapproval, it is important to consider its impact on the local environment and residents of that area, the economic benefits, and the global effects. Often, environmental concerns outweigh economic pursuits, as its impact is broader, longer-term, and worth more than just human gains.

The oil industry is an important sector of Alaska’s economy. Nearly 85 percent of the state’s budget is supplied by revenues from oil drilling, and 80 percent of the oil produced in Alaska is sent to refineries across America. With its integral economic role, oil drilling provides millions of jobs and supports local communities in Alaska. However, the risks that come along with working in oil rigs pose another danger. Workers are exposed to hazardous conditions and highly combustible material. If they are injured, fast communication is difficult, especially when working in an offshore drill. Rig work can be dangerous to the surrounding ecosystem, as it releases toxic mercury into the water and triggers seismic waves that can harm the marine ecosystem. Oil spills caused by oil rigs are also notorious for their impact on the marine ecosystem and local neighborhoods: BP’s Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill killed thousands of marine animals and caused devastating long-term effects such as slower fish responses to predators, toxic chemicals in bird eggs, and illness in cleanup workers.

Despite this, oil drilling promotes the growth of developing nations and assists them in achieving a state of energy independence. As nations and their people become more dependent on energy, oil drilling and leases are necessary to meet the oil demand. Viewing this in a long-term context, however, we may deplete the resource in the future if we continue to raise this demand by so much.

Weighing the advantages of oil drilling, such as the economic improvements and the need to keep up with the oil demand, and its disadvantages, like its environmental harm, can be difficult. However, it is important to better understand the significance of recent government actions regarding oil drilling. Politics and the government play an important role in determining the future of the environment. The environment and the fragility of the natural world must be taken into consideration and be emphasized over economic desires. In the end, these principal decisions regarding critical changes in the environment will ultimately reflect decision-makers’ interpretation of a better future.